India first won Olympic gold at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, when they were yet to get independence, and went on to bag six golds in succession.
Till 1980, India won 11 hockey medals at the Olympics, which is two more than the medals they won in every other sports combined. Those golden years still make hockey the most productive sport in the country. Even in cricket, India have just proved themselves twice as the world-beaters.
The 1980 gold medal was marred by the fact that the Moscow Olympics that year was boycotted by several countries in protest to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the year before.
Introduction of the artificial turf in hockey is said to be the primary reason for India's decline. Power and stamina soon became the hallmarks of superior hockey teams instead of the artistic moves and touches and the Europeans, miles ahead in these traits, soon overtook Asian teams like India and Pakistan.
At London, hockey will be played on a blue-and-pink turf and after missing the Beijing Olympics four years ago, the Indian outfit might get to feel how much world hockey has progressed in the last eight years.
The onus is on India to bring back the lost medal so that the sport, which has gradually gone into the backseat in the face of onslaught of cricket, gets a boost and the younger generation feels to take up the stick again. And to regain the magic, nothing can work better than an Olympic success.
Renowned hockey analyst K Arumugam said the past glory has still kept hockey alive in India. India will have its task cut out this time for it is clubbed against top teams like the Netherlands, Germany, Korea, New Zealand and Belgium. To make the semifinals, India will have to overcome tough challenges, particularly of Netherlands and Germany.
On preparation, some experts believe that India have lagged behind when compared to other teams. The Indian coach, Australian Michael Nobbs, had taken responsibility of the team just a little while ago and although he has tried to effect attacking skills, it is to be seen how quickly can the Indians adjust under him.
Some former India players feel defence and short-corners will be crucial if India were to make any progress in the tournament. Good short-corners can enable Sandeep Singh and VR Raghunath, two of India's frontline drag-flickers to score, feel the formers. Former player and captain Dhanraj Pillay said it is very important to start well in the tournament. India's first match will be against the third-ranked team, the Netherlands, on Jul 30. It will be important for India to come out with good results in that match.
India are currently playing practice matches in Spain. They had a two-match series against France before this. They won the two-match series against France 2-0 but lost the series against Spain 0-1 after squandering several chances to score in the second match which they went down 1-2. They beat South Africa 6-5 in a match which displayed a poor defence. They need to tighten these aspects before the Games finals. After playing South Africa, India will take on Spain and Great Britain in a triangular series.